The scenario is fairly typical: a company offers an opportunity to ‘break into the business’ in exchange for the intern working for free. You see many examples of this in the entertainment industry. […]
In order to qualify as an unpaid internship, the requirement is simple: no work can be performed that is of any benefit at all to the company. That is, you can not deliver mail, sort files, file papers, organize a person’s calendar, conduct market research, write reports, watch television shows and report on them, read scripts, schedule interviews, or any other job that assists the employer in any way in running their business.
New York’s entertainment industry runs on unpaid (or severely underpaid) interns. It’s embarrassing, and it disgusts me — it effectively limits jobs in the business to people who already have enough money (or, more commonly, whose parents do) to afford to live in New York at a loss for a long time.
And once you get past the internship stage, it doesn’t get much better. I’ve never seen the disconnect between starting salaries and cost of living be as grossly and unnecessarily out of proportion as the entry-level jobs in the New York entertainment industry.